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Confronting Workplace Exposure to Chemicals with LCA:  Examples of Trichloroethylene and Perchloroethylene in Metal Degreasing and Dry Cleaning

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journal contribution
posted on 01.10.2005, 00:00 by Stefanie Hellweg, Evangelia Demou, Martin Scheringer, Thomas E. McKone, Konrad Hungerbühler
Life-Cycle Assessment (LCA) aims to assess all environmental impacts “from cradle to grave”. Nevertheless, existing methods for Life-Cycle Impact Assessment (LCIA) generally do not consider impacts from chemical exposure at the workplace. This is a severe drawback, because neglecting occupational health effects may result in product or process optimizations at the expense of workers' health. We adapt an existing LCIA method to consider occupational health effects from the use of perchloroethylene (PCE) and trichloroethylene (TCE) in dry cleaning and metal degreasing. The results show that, in applications such as metal degreasing and dry cleaning, long-term (steady-state) concentrations at the workplace are up to 6 orders of magnitude higher than ambient air levels. Legal threshold values may be exceeded, depending on machine technology, size, and surrounding working conditions. The impact from workplace exposure to the total human-toxicity potential of the complete life cycle of PCE and TCE (including use, production, and disposal) is accordingly high. We therefore conclude that occupational health effects need to be considered in LCA to prevent overlooking key environmental-health impacts in LCA.